I have heard a lot about angry teenagers (some even call them troubled teenagers). People talk about teenagers being angry as some natural phenomenon, but I often find there is nothing natural about it and teenage problems are caused by things that can be changed.
One of my clients had an angry teenager at home until recently. Olivia was only 12 years old and very, very, very angry. Her mom, Nancy, who was trapped by the “teenage problems” belief, did nothing for a while. All her friends said it was normal (“You know, teens these days…”), so she just waited for the teenage years to pass and prepared herself for when her two younger kids would go through it too.
But then Nancy met another client of mine who told her, “It doesn’t have to be like that. You should go and see Ronit”. So she came to one of my parenting workshops. After the workshop, she had some hope that maybe it was not normal for “teenagers these days” to be so angry and that maybe she could help her daughter relax.
Shortly after, Nancy told me, “There was something you said to me during the parenting workshop that made a huge shift with my daughter. I was convinced all teenagers were the same, but I realized that I could help my daughter if I only changed some of the things I was doing myself. It really worked!”
Olivia had been seeing a psychologist for a while, trying to make a big decision, but without any results. After the parenting workshop, Nancy went to the psychologist and asked her to try one of my strategies. It took only one session for Olivia to make her mind up and Nancy came to see me, hoping she could make more changes in her teen daughter’s attitude and life.
Parents these days…
To me, “teenagers these days…” is usually related to “parents these days…”, so I asked Nancy some questions about what was happening in their home.
Olivia was not very social girl and had some problems at school. She was constantly angry and grumpy. She came from school and went straight to her room. Her family members had to knock on her door and “invite” her to dinner. She went to sleep between midnight and 2am, got up around 7am in a foul mood, went to school angry and came back angry. This cycle was endless. This is roughly how our conversation went.
Ronit: Why does she go to sleep so late?
Nancy: She watches TV and she spends time on Facebook
Ronit: Why does she have TV in her room?
Nancy (puzzled, smiles back at me): All our kids have TVs in their rooms
Ronit: What will happen if you take the TV out of her room?
Nancy: She will use her computer for Facebook chats and watch YouTube videos
Ronit: How come she has Facebook? It’s not legal under the age of 13 to have Facebook account. She had to lie to open an account, did you know that?
Nancy: We know, because we opened the account for her. All the kids in her class have Facebook accounts and she had social problems, so we didn’t want her to feel different
Ronit: Why does she have a computer in her room?
Nancy (puzzled, smiles back at me): All our kids have computers in their rooms. (At this stage, she felt a bit uncomfortable) I thought kids nowadays all have their own computers. What about your kids?
Ronit: Oh, my kids don’t have any electrical appliances in their rooms – no TV, no radio, no computer and no phone
Nancy was surprised. She knows a lot about my kids and is very surprised to hear that.
Ronit: What happens if you take the computer out of her room too?
Nancy: We can’t… She will watch YouTube clips and chat on her iPhone
Ronit: Why on Earth would a 12-year-old who goes to school, where mobile phones are not allowed, is picked up from school and taken to everyone by her mother (the taxi driver) need an iPhone?
Nancy: So she doesn’t feel different. All the kids have iPhones
Ronit: Not all kids have them. My kids don’t and the younger one doesn’t have any kind of mobile phone
Nancy (smiles): I can’t believe it. Don’t they feel different?
Ronit: They do and they know they are different. This is why no one thinks they are angry teenagers. What happens if you take her iPhone at night before she goes to sleep?
Nancy stops for a second. She has never thought this was an option.
Ronit: Who pays for Olivia’s iPhone?
Nancy: We do…
Now I have a question for you. If parents do everything to make sure their kids are not different from the rest of the angry teenagers around them, how much do you think they contribute to “teenagers these days…”?
Nancy and I discussed other things too, but a major one, which I would like to present to day, was sleep.
Teenagers and sleep deprivation
Every person, regardless of age, who sleeps 5 hours at night, wakes up grumpy, confused and disoriented. They do not have to be teenagers to be angry. Take sleep away from any person for more than 3 days and you will have a typical teen – grumpy, moody, angry, agitated and grossly overreacting.
Research done by sleep experts discovered that lack of sufficient sleep puts teenagers at risk of cognitive and emotional difficulties, poor concentration, poor memory, low academic achievements and a significant increase in accidents.
A research at the University of Minnesota studied over 7,000 teenagers and found out there were more incidents of depression and ADHD among teenagers who did not sleep enough.
Further studies about teenagers and sleep discovered that, starting around the beginning of puberty and continuing into their early 20s, teenagers need about 9.2 hours of sleep each night, compared with the 7.5-8 hours that adults need.
Teenagers these days are exposed to a lot more stimulation than we were in the past just before they go to sleep. If we have the stimulation easily available, it is not fair to ask them to reject it, especially when all the other kids get it too.
Many parents think they are doing their kids a favor when they supply them with all the new gadgets and make it easy for them to access them, when in fact, kids have very little time each day to make good use of all those gadgets, so they sacrifice their essential sleep.
Nancy went home and talked to her husband. They decided together what to do and told their kids about the new rules in the house to make sure Olivia gets enough sleep. The other kids were happy, but Olivia was not. She was upset and cried.
A week later, she stopped being one of those angry teenagers and having “teenage problems”…
How to stop being the parents of angry teenagers
- Do not allow a TV set in their room
- Do not allow a computer in their room
- Do not allow mobile phones in their room
- Stop them using the computer at least 2 hours before bedtime (this is a good tip for everyone, because the light from the monitor disturbs the function of the sleeping hormone)
- Make sure they sleep at least 9 hours every night
- Do not allow any after-school activities that go past sleep time on nights before school (typically Sunday to Thursday)
- It is harder to relax and sleep when the mind is pre-occupied with homework, so make homework a priority, but do not allow doing homework through the night, except in extreme cases. Staying up late slows everything down and causes delays in subsequent assignments
- Limit teenagers’ evenings work and encourage weekend and holiday jobs
- Limit Facebook activity (you may have to use security programs to monitor and/or limit Internet use)
- Teach your kids some time management skills. If they plan all their activities, they will find out easily when they are wasting time
If you want your teenager not to be “one of those teenagers…”, make sure you are not one of those parents…
Have a good night’s sleep,